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Joe Biden is coming to Turkey
“Life punishes those who come too late” said Mikhail Gorbachev on October 7, 1989 to Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party in East Germany. Honecker resigned on October 18. It was him who predicted in January of 1989 that the Wall would remain for another 50 to 100 years. A broad range, yet grossly off the mark. Demolition off the Wall started in early November of that year. Honecker, like the rest of the USSR, was late in responding to the winds of change, and was swept away by them. East Germany is no more.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is finally coming to Turkey this week. Turkey went through a terrible ordeal on July the 15th. Our own jets bombed us, and 241 citizens died to prevent the coup attempt. Yet our Western allies failed to empathize. They made dry statements of solidarity, followed by “concerns” regarding our domestic politics. There were no high level visits to Ankara to make up for the lack of support. Now, five weeks after the event, Mr. Biden is finally due to grace Ankara with his presence. Yet some already predict the end of the Transatlantic Alliance, or at least Turkey’s place in it.
Are they right? Is Mr. Biden too late? Are Western capitals about to enter another – and much more serious – round of the “who lost Turkey” debate? I don’t think so. Remember the last time we had that debate? It was right after the UN Resolution for 2010 Iranian sanctions. Together with Brazil, Turkey casted a “No” vote to the new sanctions then approved by the United Nations Security Council resolution. It was not words that started the debate, mind you. It was action by Turkey. That, at the end of the day, is what matters. There is no action this time on the Turkish side. As the late Süleyman Demirel used to say in these circumstances, “don’t tailor a suit for an unborn child.”
In the mean time, the upside is that Mr. Biden is finally coming to Turkey. The state of relations are grim, but I don’t think it’s anything a personal touch cannot remedy. Turks have been worried about US support for the PYD for some time, and the failed coup attempt sharpened that feeling more than we have seen before. We had people being killed out on the streets by those who can only be described as traitors. The coup failed, democracy – whatever its gaping deficiencies – endured. Yet our allies didn’t appreciate what we went through that dreadful night. Like so much in global politics, this is about emotions. It is personal.
Mr. Biden knows very well the personal dimensions of politics. It was he who talked about this in Istanbul a couple of years ago, while visiting President Erdoğan, then prime minister, at his home, while recuperating after a medical operation. Modifying the famous phrase by Tip O’Neil, he said “all politics is personal,” and he is well known in the US as a man who can bridge those personal divides.
The 2010 turn of events was a mishap due to communication failure between Turkey and the US, if you ask me. We have learned from that episode what Allies need to do: More talking and less guessing. More engagement, less finger pointing. More coordination, less discretion. It’s much like a marriage of sorts.
Turkey’s Western journey is a marriage of reason. Just have a look at the graph below. Take the OECD and Turkey’s exports as 100 and have a look at the ratio intermediate imports to exports. The OECD as a whole has an intermediate imports-to-exports ratio of 55. For Turkey that is 106. That is how Turkey is integrated to the global system. What does this mean? Turks live well above their means. We take more out of the global system than we put in. So far.
It will be good to see Mr. Biden back in town.